- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Outside a nursing home in Hilliard, gray-haired women with walkers congregated around the automatic sliding doors. Men with canes sat on benches.

But inside, in a single, spartan room just off the main entrance, a 55-year-old man lay on a raised bed, unable to sit up or move his legs. He used to be a giant. He used to travel the country, ride a Harley.

He used to save lives.

Stu Tudor, a 23-year veteran of the Columbus Division of Fire, can barely move his arms and now calls the facility home.

“Today I’m doing fine,” he said in a slow, halting voice.

But Tudor doesn’t shy away from how he really feels to be living in a nursing home.

“It sucks,” he said. “You don’t get to leave. I can’t move my body right. I just want to get out.”

His longtime girlfriend, Lisa Watford, feels his pain. She visits every day from her home in Powell.

“You forget what life used to be like,” she said. “You want it back so bad but you’ve been in this yearlong struggle that you almost forget what life used to be like, and you adapt to this new life.”

A year ago this Sunday, Tudor was at the Columbus Crew stadium - for, of all things, a charity soccer game to raise money for families of first responders who have been killed or injured.

Suddenly, there was a bolt of lightning that struck his head and traveled through his body.

“The first few days were touch-and-go,” said Tudor, who doesn’t remember the incident. “I almost died. I did die in the beginning. They brought me back.”

Throughout his recovery, his fellow firefighters have been a brotherhood, the likes of which Watford said she’s never seen.

Because there’s only one taxi service that can accommodate Tudor’s wheelchair, he sometimes has to wait hours for a pickup, Watford said.

So the firefighters of Station 10 in Franklinton - where Tudor most recently served as a lieutenant - are auctioning off a slot machine during Red, White & Boom to raise money for a van that could handle the wheelchair.

In addition, hundreds of firefighters have given up vacation days or have worked on Tudor’s behalf so that he can reach his 25-year mark of service with the Fire Division, which would allow him to retire and receive his pension, said Jack Reall, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 67.

On Tuesday night, the firefighters of Station 10 hosted Tudor and Watford for a spaghetti dinner. At the station house, it was jokes as usual.

“Where’s dessert?” Tudor asked as the firefighters started cleaning up. One went to the fridge and came out with a cake that read “Congratulations Deputy Chief Shawn” in frosting.

Someone handed Tudor a cup. With some assistance, he plunged it into the middle of the cake. It’s a tradition, the firefighters explained, that another firefighter covertly takes out the middle of another’s cake - this one for newly promoted Battalion Chief Shawn Koser.

Firefighter Jason Reed, who has spent his whole career working with Tudor, sat next to his former boss, feeding him cake.

Earlier, in the medic vehicle on the way to the dinner, Tudor, lying on the cot, looked out on the street. “33,” Tudor said as the medic took a right onto Rt. 33. He knew exactly where they were.

At one point, the driver went a way Tudor wasn’t expecting. Watford assured him that the driver, though young, knew where he was going.

“I used to be his age,” Tudor said wistfully.

“You remember when you were him,” Watford said with a smile.

Sirens sounded somewhere behind the medic. Tudor, head resting on the back of the bed, gazed out on the sun-dappled road. In his steel-blue eyes, there was a glimmer of longing.

___

Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

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